Flames' Karlsson filling 'big' role

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

Henrik Karlsson takes up a lot of net.

That’s the first thing fans might notice when watching the 6-foot-5, 200-lb. goaltender practise with the Calgary Flames.

His goalposts were chiming Thursday before the first official day of training camp, as his new teammates rung the iron with their shots.

“There’s nowhere to shoot, I guess,” said defenceman Mark Giordano, one of about a half-dozen Flames getting in a little skate at the Saddledome before physical testing starts Friday.

“He’s a big guy and he’s quick. He’s a good goalie from just skating with him this past week.”

Enjoying a casual workout in a tracksuit instead of his usual pads, Miikka Kiprusoff didn’t bother to test out the Swede brought in to back him up this season, but not because he didn’t think he could beat Karlsson.

“I remember when CuJo (Curtis Joseph) came here. He was between the pipes and I was shooting. I took my first shot at his head,” Kiprusoff said with a grin. “I felt pretty bad after that. I decided not to shoot at any other goalies anymore.

“I don’t trust my shot that much. It’s better to shoot empty netters.”

There isn’t a whole lot of empty net when Karlsson is in front of it.

And he’s thrilled to be in front of the NHL variety after a season of uncertainty led him from the San Jose Sharks to the doorstep of the KHL.

“It was pretty weird,” Karlsson said of his time with the Sharks, which ended when his rights were traded to the Flames at the draft.

On loan in the Swedish league last year, he became a Black Ace during the Sharks playoff run, but couldn’t come to terms on a new contract. Karlsson thought his NHL career was over before it really began.

“Then I got a good deal from a KHL team. Riga,” Karlsson said. “I pretty much signed with them, but then (Flames scout) Anders Steen called me and told me maybe Calgary wanted to sign me and wondered if that was possible.

“I called my agent right away. I told him to make it happen.”

Trading away a sixth-round pick for the restricted free agent’s rights, the Flames signed Karlsson to a one-way, US $500,000 deal for this season.

He’s expected to back up Kiprusoff and, with any luck, provide the veteran Finn a little more time to rest.

“I was real happy when finally it was a done deal,” said the 26-year-old Karlsson, who spent last season with Farjestads in the Swedish Elite league.

“(Dinamo Riga) weren’t so happy, but I was real happy to come here.”

It’s an opportunity unlike any other for a young goalie who has yet to suit up for a single NHL game.

And the team would have been his first choice, too.

He grew up rooting for the Flames from the time Mike Vernon tended the twine, through the Andrei Trefilov experiment and Trevor Kidd years.

With uncertainty at the position on the farm, Karlsson could prove to be next in line for the starting role in the Stampede City.

First, he has to prove he can win games as a backup.

“I know that the organization believes in me,” he said. “It gives me more motivation to work hard and practice.

“I’m ready to go.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca


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